Owensboro City Commission held a commission meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18 to vote on a tax increase. The full commission was not there, which resulted in a 2-2 tie. A special held meeting happened Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. where the 4 percent property tax increase passed 3-2.
Owensboro’s City Commission held the second vote Thursday with the fourth commissioner, Pam Smith-Wright, present. Smith-Wright was traveling on work-related business during the first meeting at city hall.
With prior votes from the other four members of the city commission remaining unchanged, Smith-Wright’s vote in favor of the tax increase pushed the vote 3-2 in favor of the raised property taxes. Commissioners Jay Velotta and Larry Conder again voted no, while Mayor Tom Watson and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Glenn voted yes.
Velotta spoke before the vote, explaining that he wanted the community to feel the city commission had exhausted every other option in bringing income to the city before deciding to raise their taxes.
“Mayor, to your point of progress … all I’m asking is that we get together as a group, as a commission — with staff — and look at other ideas and a plan we can work out for us to discuss ideas you and I’d talked about,” Velotta said. “You know, we planned downtown, we planned 54, and those have elevated our entire community and prospects for growth. The question is, ‘What’s next?’ The commission needs to discuss those things, I think, and look at ideas that, maybe, we overlooked.”
Glenn said he took no pleasure in raising taxes. He knew the move was crucial not only to the city’s steady growth, but also to keeping Owensboro out of a negative credit rating.
“I am the last person in the world who wants to raise people’s cost of living, but I’m just going to tell you this: You are going to have your property taxes go up because Owensboro has been successful,” Glenn said. “That’s the cost of progress. We went four years without raising the property tax from the time I’ve been on the commission. Owensboro is on fire — commercially and residentially.”
Glenn added the tax increase would attract other investors wanting to create jobs and bring revenue to the city.
“If I’m the student, and I have the chance to raise my grade from a B to an A because I do the things that are painful, but necessary, to correct and make the city’s finances stronger, I’m going to do it because that’s my job,” Glenn said.
Owensboro resident Josh Cook spoke at the podium before the vote. He confronted Glenn and Watson about spending money on events such as the $200,000 air show when the city needed more police officers to defend residents against shootings. Cook also brought up bringing better-paying jobs to Owensboro, naming Alorica as an example of underpaid employment.
“Mr. Glenn said Owensboro’s ‘on fire,’ ” Cook said. “These companies want to come into town — that’s great. I’m all for jobs, but the thing is, they’re mediocre jobs … If we’re so on fire, Mr. Glenn, how come we don’t have income that’s coming to town, offering tax payers 17, 18, 20 dollars an hour?”
Watson answered by saying they had several open budget hearings, trying to figure out ways to save money. He said agencies across town had increased the prices of their products and services. In turn, the mayor said, Owensboro had to raise their prices to keep up.
“There’s so many people who don’t want to be part of the community,” Watson said. “They’ve created their own little kingdom. Nobody’s wanting to give up what they’ve got … My big concern was making sure we had police and public safety, so we’ve tried to do those things.”
After the meeting, Smith-Wright said in order for Owensboro to bring businesses to the city, the tax increase was necessary.
“I want people to understand that we’re talking about 33 cents a month — that’s all we’re talking about per $100,” Smith-Wright said. “When people see 4 percent, their mind goes somewhere else. But we’re not talking about thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Smith-Wright added that, more than developmental purposes, in order to keep police officers and firefighters in the city of Owensboro, the city needed to raise taxes to maintain quality leadership, first responders and protection.